When I watch Mad Men, I look at Trudy Campbell, always so put-together and cheery and totally in favor of Pete, and I think, my God, I could never be you. Surely, I’d explode. Or make someone else explode.
But now, one brave blogger, over at Jen but Never Jenn, is on a one-week mission to prove it’s possible. She is taking on the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition with exemplary vigor, all the way down to boosting his ego with some cute little star-shaped cookies. Who needs rally girls when you can have a wife?!
I was devouring Day 1 of this hilarious experiment, when I stumbled on a habit of highly effective housewives that all of us today could take a cue from.
So what is that habit? Let’s take a look:
“He then unloaded what was on his mind (trying to get the swing of things at his new job, especially the lingo and acronyms they heavily use) and I attempted to “lize” (listen with my eyes) throughout it all. … As suggested, I gave no advice but encouraged him to keep at it, that he’d get the hang of things and gently reminded him about raising his EQ (Enthusiasm! Quotient!). This is so *not* my style of motivation normally (I like to come up with solutions, not cheerlead), so I found this to be largely an exercise in restraint on my part.”
I imagine that most modern women would second her objection to lizing. (Major technical advances have allowed us to listen with our ears and actually process the information).
But today, I’m going against my natural instinct, arguing in favor of lizing and cheerleading and raising his EQ.
So get out your pom-poms, and hear me out.
Last year, I worked as a research assistant in a psych lab studying couples. I spent hours watching couples discuss personal problems. Not problems in the relationship, but problems in one partner’s personal life. The study is still ongoing, but from my personal observations, the partners that offered subtle encouragement (i.e. head nods, empathic gestures, restatements) were much more effective supporters than the ones that offered advice.
To illustrate this, I think of myself, sharing one of my problems with my husband. I’m usually upset that he’s giving too much support, rather than too little. Sometimes I want to brainstorm solutions together, but that’s usually once I’ve calmed down. Before that, I just want to vent, or hear my thoughts out loud, or know that he’s on my side. I just want to be a mess for a minute. When he does step in, his help can feel patronizing, like he doesn’t believe I can handle it myself. Sometimes I need him to just trust that I’ve got it and be with me.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in that.
In 2006, a series of studies tested the effectiveness of different types of support. The results showed that invisible support—recognized only by the provider, not the receiver—was the most effective. Visible support, like advice, left people no better off (or worse) than if they got no support at all.
So what is so bad about advice?
Well, the study showed that unsolicited advice was interpreted as a lack of confidence and made the recipients feel incompetent. The authors concluded that the key to effective support is to communicate confidence in the person’s capacity to handle the problem.
Watching Mad Men, I notice that the men give plenty of advice to their wives. It makes them seem controlling, or superior, and the women seem to absorb the sense of incompetence that kind of support implies.
I wonder if, or why, as women became more liberated, we started emulating male support, offering unsolicited advice to our husbands. Couldn’t we instead encourage our husbands to become cheerleaders for us, confident in our ability to cope? Maybe, in our effort to equalize the playing field, we got a little off track. Maybe we were the ones who had it right to begin with.
So ladies, let’s bring back lizing. And this time, let’s get our men to lize back.